Concertante for Piano and Brass (1966)
Variations on ‘Laudate Dominum’ (1976, rev. 2007)
Fanfare for a New Era (2000, rev. 2017)
Euphonium Concerto (2018)
The World Rejoicing – Symphonic Variations on a Lutheran Chorale (2020)
David Childs (euphonium), Jonathan Scott (piano), Black Dyke Band / Nicholas J. Childs
Doyen DOYCD414 [78’14”]
Producer Adam Goldsmith, Engineer Melissa Dee
Recorded 2021, 2022, Town Hall, Morley and Conservatoire, Leeds
reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Doyen releases its seventh volume devoted to the music for brass band by Edward Gregson, featuring two of his numerous concertante works and two sets of variations that confirm his all-round versatility in a medium which has not always been synonymous with innovation.
What’s the music like?
The programme begins with Fanfare for a New Era, written to mark the opening of Stoller Hall at Chetham’s School and filling the sound-space through its antiphonal exchanges. The Concertante for Piano and Band remained unheard for 50 years following its premiere, but the deftness of this combination amply justifies its revival. The Prelude suggests a passing acquaintance with Rachmaninov’s Fourth Concerto, the Nocturne makes affecting use of the hymn Escher and the Rondo alludes to a more famous such tune before its lively close.
Jonathan Scott despatches the solo part with no mean panache, as does David Childs that of the Euphonium Concerto. Among the latest in Gregson’s more than a dozen concertos, this denotes the more angular style of his recent music with its eventful interplay of soloist and ensemble in the initial Dialogues. The B-A-C-H motif underpins a wide-ranging cadenza which makes way for a Song Without Words, whose ruminations are not of an unalloyed tranquillity, before A Celtic Bacchanal sweeps all before it in its unbridled effervescence.
In between these concertos, Variations on ‘Laudate Dominum’ confirms Gregson’s always imaginative approach to this too often predictable form. Merely hinted at in the introduction, Parry’s theme is invoked to varying degrees and from different perspectives during those six variations which follow (the third and fourth were added over three decades later) – taking in an eloquent hymn then a virtuosic fugue whose accrued energy makes possible the return of the underlying theme, for a peroration that rounds off the sequence with fervent affirmation.
Even more impressive is the closing work. Commissioned by a consortium of bands to mark the composer’s 75th birthday, The World Rejoicing is subtitled Symphonic Variations on a Lutheran Chorale which duly confirms its highly integrated structure. A subdued Prelude precedes five continuous sections that play fast and loose with the chorale Nun danket alle Gott, while encompassing the spectrum of compositional devices and technical ingenuity. This is intoned as a powerful apotheosis and subsequently rendered as a decisive Postlude.
Does it all work?
Very much so. Gregson has enjoyed a long association with the brass band movement, such as is evident in the expertise and absence of inhibition of his writing. Nor is there any risk of routine or predictability in music which is almost always as gratifying to listen to as it must be to play. It helps that the performers are so demonstrably attuned to his idiom – the Black Dyke Band, which is evidently on a roll some 167 years after its inauguration, here giving its collective all in this music under the expert and attentive direction of Nicholas J. Childs.
Is it recommended?
Indeed. The sound could not be bettered for detail and overall presence within a sympathetic ambience, and Paul Hindmarsh has contributed informative notes. Whether or not this is the best of Doyen’s releases devoted to Gregson, it is an ideal place to begin exploring his music.
Listen & Buy
You can listen to clips and get purchase options from the Chandos website